>> Gretna Green
John o’ Groats <<
No prizes for guessing the link between today’s pairing. To quote REM, just ‘Think about direction / Wonder why you haven’t before.’ Facing north, as that song enjoins us, we have the famous end-of-the-country location which is, of course, neither the end of the country nor the farthest north point of the mainland. Quite how John O’Groats came to be regarded as the extreme point nobody seems to know – especially as the actual farthest north point of Scotland, Dunnet Head, is only a few short miles away – but long distance athletes have so seen it for too long to change that perception now. Perhaps it was the existence of the ferry to the Northern Isles, traditionally founded by Dutchman Jan de Groot in the 15th century, that established it as such in the minds of travellers. It would have been the end of the road, after all. As would Gretna Green for numerous eloping couples from south of the border, making it our southern extreme for this pairing. Also associated with a traditional character, although in this case generations of the same, the village became famous for weddings carried out by the blacksmith through the traditional handfasting ceremony. Since this was not legal in England, couples intent on marriage without parental approval would flee to the first place over the border to forge their own unique bond. Both locations are now, of course, prime stopping points on the tourist trail that links them together across the historical riches of mainland Scotland.
(Tired of) Greetin’ fur Gretna Green
by Michael Pedersen
Ack Gretna Green, I’m sorry pal,
I really did mean tae visit, really did
want tae, instead I’m writing this
fae Indonesia Ubud, beside a lover,
in and out of napping, last night’s
daft wee squabble ripening on our lips;
but breakfast beckons and we’ll wash
it aw away with miso soup
and watermelon juice. She’s lovely
the lover, hus stories of yer service
stations (aye, I asked), firing up
the A74, broke the border many times
wi her faither barkin’ in earshot.
A caveat, there is no runaway
bride here, no blacksmith’s anvil,
no Jane Austin adaptation, no any
of those most-talked-about traits
yer likely sick to death of hearing.
It’s yer starling murmurations
that draw the most fae me, them
reminders that sometimes ‘hings
spin so fast it looks as if they’re still, them
amorphous blobs of thousand lives
shape-shifting with inky synchronicity
– them like baubles on yer pylons, them
I’m guessing, hoping, dress yer postcards.
But that’s the noo and I’ve hud months
to dress myself in you and of the months
before ma excuse is just as thin. Whilst
others would huv sought you oot, extolled
yer charms, got mucky in yer dirt,
shared wedding tales where life wi you
was a glass brimfu’, I, the fud, did not.
So I’m sorry to your broken hearted,
I’m sure we’d get along, savour breaths,
break bread, slam shots thigether
at the disco, neither o’us dancing.
Fecklessly, for you, I imagine aw these
pusses on the streets, the good folks
of Gretna Green: pale jackets, colourful
umbrellas crown sunken heads, pain
on some of their faces, yawns,
smiles, fancy hats and tattoos,
sharp bursts of apology
if they accidentally touch – but then
this is how I see us most, in shifting
winds, yer twigs breaking under feet
that urnae mine. So let’s get to it,
this is what I’ve got tae give:
you’ve muscled yer way into many
mighty moments here, mighty as I’ve
kent: ornate carvings of Hindu
goddesses on stone temples peppered
wi you, elephant towel art wi you
in their een, my sunburn stinging, you
part of pulse; you climbed wi me & lover
to the top of thon Tegenungan Waterfall,
clambered into sheets without a fold
and as I unwrap lover’s legs, fur
a flash, ye dirty bugger, my mind drifts
into you. If we are whit we are
because of whit we’re no,
me and you, we’re forged a little
closer than I ever would huv thought,
than places cherished and desired,
your platitudes of the still-to-be-imagined
in ma takeoffs and landings, up here in
the stratosphere, you; in Ubud, caked
in sweat, you, clinging ever tighter.
So perhaps I’ll see you after,
perhaps to share a photo, in which
we’ll, both of us, look eager
to be ignored. On the plane
above the clouds, the view belongs
tae masses of folks but is at the same
time entirely mine own, until, yes,
ma mind drifts back to you, Gretna
Green, to the poem unwritten,
the promise never kept.
John o’ Groats
by Ian McDonough
Endings are not entirely bitter: here,
where the land gives out
in a last flourish of sea-pink, sand
and louring cliff,
the Atlantic and North Sea
join to sing, sometimes in a mother’s croon,
often with the battle cry of a marauder.
Sky is everywhere you look: underneath it
coastal townships busy themselves
with a million small inconsequentialities.
Stacked one upon the other,
all these particulars conspire to build
the shaky watchtowers we all gaze from.
Air is sharp and vital, cut with salt,
seasoned with a blend
of moorland bloom and arctic ice.
Conversation, cautious but frank, reflects
a recognition that each wave and every breeze,
each shaft of autumn sunlight
unfolds depending only on its inner strength.
Balanced on the outer edge,
we watch each moment spool before our eyes,
knowing the future is uncharted sea,
certain there is no way back to land.
Michael Pedersen is co-Founder and an Artistic Director of Neu! Reekie! He is also a Robert Louis Stevenson Award winner, a John Mathers Trust Rising Star of Literature Award winner and a Callum McDonald Memorial award finalist. His 2013 collection Play With Me was published by Polygon books, and he has written short plays for National Theatre of Scotland/FMT and Edinburgh Art Festival, pop songs for the band Jesus, Baby! and is currently working on a feature film screenplay. He also enjoys knitwear.
Ian McDonough was brought up in Brora on the East Coast of Sutherland. He has published four collections of poetry, most recently A Witch Among The Gooseberries published by Mariscat in 2014. His work has appeared widely, including Poetry Review, Times Educational Supplement, Physics Review, New Writing Scotland and The Scotsman. A member of Shore Poets, Ian lives in Edinburgh with his partner and daughter. When not writing he works as a mediator and trainer.